Simulating Social Complexity to Understand the Archaeological Past

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 80th Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA (2015)

Large scale patterns, we commonly detect in the archaeological record, are often not a simple sum of individual human interactions but a complex interwoven network of dependencies among individuals, groups, and the environment in which they live. Unraveling this web is a hard task. Complexity science's answer to the challenges of understanding such non-linear, unpredictable, complex systems is computational modelling. Tools such as Agent-based Modelling, System Dynamics Models, Network Analysis or Equation-based Models are extensively used in virtually every scientific discipline and in the last decade have also gained ground in social sciences, anthropology and archaeology.In this session we present computational approaches to understanding the past, showcasing the innovative ways archaeologists have used simulation and model building to understand the complex societies they study. The session aim is to provide platform to discuss the potential and limitations of computational modelling in archaeology and highlight specific areas where it can be linked to more traditional empirical research.

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  • Documents (12)

  • Alliances, Coalitions, Hierarchies and Conflict in the Ancestral Pueblo World (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Stefani Crabtree. R. Kyle Bocinsky. Timothy A. Kohler.

    Using the experimental testbed of the Village Ecodynamics Project’s agent-based simulation "Village," we examine how population growth and resource depletion in the Central Mesa Verde landscape between AD 600 and AD 1280 set the stage for territorial conflict, and how lineage and clan membership likely affected the structure of coalitions. We take a three-pronged approach, combining models for the evolution of leadership, models for the formation of coalitions and alliances, and models for...

  • Changing Channels: Simulating Irrigation Management on Evolving Canal Systems for the Prehistoric Hohokam of Central Arizona (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only John Murphy. Louise Purdue. Maurits Ertsen.

    Societies that rely on irrigation face challenges arising from the variability and unpredictability of water supply and the physics underlying the flow of water through open channels; they overcome these through structured social interactions and institutions ranging from simple to complex. To better understand these past interactions we combine geoarchaeological studies with flow simulations and Agent Based Modeling. Fieldwork conducted during CRM projects on Hohokam irrigation structures in...

  • Climatic variability and hominin dispersal: the accumulated plasticity hypothesis (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Matt Grove.

    It has long been known that temporally unstable environments are likely to promote the evolution of plastic adaptations, whilst it is equally clear that such adaptations are characteristic of successful colonizers. These two established findings, however, are rarely related. This contribution bridges this gap using a very simple evolutionary algorithm that tracks the evolution of plasticity under various climatic regimes, allowing for the construction of an index of climate-mediated dispersal...

  • Complexity in space and time: spatio-temporal variability and scale in simulations of social-ecological systems (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Isaac Ullah. C. Michael Barton.

    Over the last decade, the Mediterranean Landscape Dynamics Project has integrated complex systems concepts with computer simulation and empirical data in research on early farming systems. We have developed a computational laboratory, composed of multiple interacting models that are dynamically and recursively linked. to study how small-holder Social-Ecological Systems (SES) grow and change over time, how they react to major system state change, and how specific system variables affect the...

  • Empirical Validation and Model Selection in Archaeological Simulation (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Enrico Crema.

    Empirical validation is a key stage of any model development process and should provide an objective and quantitative account of the model performance. Yet, too often this stage plays a marginal role in the inferential exercise, with many discussions almost exclusively dedicated on the model building process. This paper discusses this neglected aspect of archaeological simulation, distinguishing two approaches drawn from epistemological parallels with statistical modelling. The first utilises...

  • Humanizing wave of advance dispersal models (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Colin Wren.

    Since Ammerman and Cavalli-Sforza (1971) introduced Fisher’s (1937) wave of advance equation to archaeology, it has been the most commonly used method to model the complex dynamics behind human dispersals in a variety of regional and global case studies. The standard form of the model involves an initial population growing and spreading randomly outwards from an origin. Studies use the model to calculate expected arrival dates and expansion velocities based on population growth rate,...

  • Many Roman Bazaars: exploring the need for simple computational models in the study of the Roman economy (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Shawn Graham. Tom Brughmans.

    The study of the Roman economy is a battlefield of sometimes conflicting archaeological and historical models. Each model argues for different factors as the driving forces of the Roman economy. Yet the model authors rarely make explicit how their descriptions of the functioning of Roman trade can be abstracted as concepts that allow comparison with other models. Moreover, the development of these descriptive models has not gone hand in hand with the development of methods that allow for them to...

  • Modeling Behavior in Digital Places Using Low-Level Perceptual Cues (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Rachel Opitz.

    Serious games and detailed 3D virtual models that allow researchers to explore multiple scenarios and reflect on different hypotheses or potential reconstructions are growing in number and increasingly viewed as serious scholarly tools. These reconstructions tend to heavily foreground the spatial and visual aspects of a place, a natural reflection of the character of the digital media in use. Studies of potential past experiences of these places, typically focused on movement through them and...

  • Reconstructing Large-Area Ancient Transportation Networks to Support Complexity Research (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Devin White.

    Understanding and explaining the flow of people across landscapes through time, and the transportation networks that flow creates, has long been of interest to archaeologists focused on the origin, development, and inner workings of complex societies. Reconstructing these networks is extremely challenging due to data sparsity. Existing desktop GIS tools allow you to generate point-to-point routes via least cost analysis, which can then be compared to documented routes (which are very rare), used...

  • Simulating Late Holocene landscape use and the distribution of stone artefacts in arid western New South Wales, Australia (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Benjamin Davies.

    The archaeological landscapes of arid environments often feature surface scatters of stone artefacts, which are used to infer past human activity and organization. For hunter-gatherer groups this typically involves some interpretation of mobility; however, the scales of activity inferred from these assemblages usually extend beyond the boundaries of study areas. Understanding what these assemblages mean in terms of human mobility requires assessment of how samples fit within a wider landscape...

  • A spatially explicit model of lithic raw material composition in archaeological assemblages (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Philip Fisher. Luke Premo.

    Lithic studies have benefited from the increased availability of raw material provenience data. The ability to determine the source locations of obsidian artifacts through X-ray fluorescence, for example, provides archaeologists with another line of evidence for addressing questions concerning mobility, settlement patterns, trade, adaptions to environmental conditions, and subsistence strategies. Brantingham (2003, 2006) previously demonstrated the importance of "null" model expectations in...

  • Testing the Variability Selection Hypothesis on Hominin Dispersals - a Multi-agent Model Approach (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Iza Romanowska. Seth Bullock.

    The Variability Selection Hypothesis proposed by Potts (1996; 1998) postulates the evolution of behavioural plasticity among early hominins arising during periods of strong environmental fluctuations in the last 6 million years. It argues that the inconsistency in selection regimes caused by the rapid environmental fluctuations produced particularly strong selection pressure on adapting to change rather than any particular set of conditions (termed 'adaptive complexity', 'adaptive flexibility',...